AAR of the fictional Battle at the town of Hal occurring during the second day of the 100.5 Days campaign.
[A game scenario created by the map moves based upon the Waterloo Campaign by myself and DaveB who commands the French strategically and offers grand tactical advice for my solo play.]
In a bid to take Brussels, Grouchy was ordered to force march to the town of Hal, defeat or make retreat the small force there and thereby open the road to that key city.
The hard march took a toll on Vandamme’s infantry as he had a large number fall out on the way, finally reached Hal late on Day 1 of the campaign too late to engage but allowed him a long look at the defences. Only the hill to the east was the break in the otherwise flat bare terrain around the town.
A French officer questioned a local and he reports "there is only soldiers wearing skirts in the town” and it was noted in the fading light, camp fires behind the town, some British along the river but no masses of horsemen.
The town of Hal was on the north side of the river which could be only crossed by three bridge close to one another. This would channel the French attacks and negate Exelman’s corps of dragoons until the town was cleared by the infantry at which point they could pursue the retreating Allies.
|Eagle's eye view of the Allies deployment. The elements touching the buildings are considered within, the others are in reserve.|
Grouchy as overall commander ordered that the artillery deploy close as to pound the forces arrayed and defending Hal. Exelman’s horse artillery was stripped from him to help while his horse was moved to the northwest and be in position to pursue the Allies once pried out of the houses.
|The French deployment. Exelman's cavalry are moving to the west while the French "grand battery' of guns are limbered concentrated in the middle of the two columns of d'Erlon's infantry to cross the two nearest bridges to take the town.|
The Allies, as noted, were small in number, but Wellington, while shifting the bulk of his forces west to counter the French moves to Ghent, left this road block to Brussels. It consisted of the elite of his forces: Picton’s Division of Highlanders and Cooke’s Foot Guards. Along with a brigade of Hanoverian militia and a few batteries of foot guns, they would need to halt Grouchy’s attack.
Gordon commander of his Highlanders wondered aloud if sitting in the town would just allow the French artillery to pound them until they collapsed but Wellington responded “Cant be helped. To abandon would just allow the French dragoons to force us in square and await the artillery and infantry to destroy us further down the road. No, Gordon, we shall stay.” He mused to himself that the town will mitigate much of their artillery fire. They can’t sit there all day and the French must attack us at some point. Grouchy will follow his orders as he always does.
Gordon, taking the silence to mean a rebuke blurted “Och Aye, we must plant ourselves here”. Wellington, slowly taking himself out of his thoughts, replied “If there is anything of which I do not know, it is agriculture”
Upon seeing the masses of French marching toward him, he ironically waved his hat in salute.
|Wellington waves his hat at the oncoming French and Gordon looks on.|
Led by the Swiss of Habert's Division and followed by Defol’s determined soldiers, the assault of Hal began while the other three divisions of Vandamme’s command would attack over the wood bridge further to the west. The artillery was ordered to be concentrated in the centre near the town. This limbered artillery offered a good target for the British guns positions east of the town and some batteries were wrecked but the toll could have been worse (my die rolling helped!)
Once in position the combined French guns pounded the town but, as Wellington, suspected, not many Highlanders holding this eastern potion of the town were made casualties.
|The French columns advance!|
|The wheels indicate the artillery elements are limbered and moving. (Actual limber teams would create too large a footprint on the table)|
Wellington, decided despite the potential artillery fire, to fight the oncoming French Swiss in the open before the bridge and deployed the Gordon’s outside the town quickly regaining their disorder by use of his additional command points. The Swiss crossed the bridge but bounced off the Highlanders but the Scots were now forced to countercharge or be exposed to the massed French artillery. While again successful the Gordon’s were now a spent force. Despite the loss of the Gordons, some third of his meagre force, Picton’s corps morale held.
|The moment of combat between Pack's Brigade represented by the Gordon's and a brigade from Habert's division|
At noon, a bit of a lull in the fighting as the French redeployed moving back weakened elements and moving the second column onto the middle bridge. An hour later, now in position, both columns attacked the eastern portion of town. The Cameron Highlanders now defending, were caught up in a hard fight with no advantage to each side. (the continual ties in combat die rolls quickly wore down both sides!)
The French artillery, now devoid of targets broke up the ‘grand battery’ moving east and west to find new targets.
With the elimination of the Camerons, Picton decided to commit his Hanoverians in a last bid to retake the eastern portion of the town before they would be destroyed by French artillery in any event. The attack would take itself but more importantly one of the brigades of Vandamme’s corps forcing a morale check. Unknown to Picton, Wellington had ordered the supporting 1st Foot Guards to charge the exiting victorious but weak brigade of Bethezin’s division. The combat was one sided and the French quickly ran (8 to 4 numbers!) but Wellington’s hoped for French collapse did not occur so the battle would continue into the darkening hours. He was determined to hold to the last musket ball if at all possible; Brussels and the campaign was at stake!
|Picton looks on as the British artillery fires OVER the Hanoverians|
The last of Picton’s force, his artillery, was destroyed by the French firepower across the river. Picton’s tophat was plucked off his head by one 8 pounder ball….
In the western portion of the town, the 2nd Foot Guards fought hard to hold the town and lost most of its strength but held on against determined French efforts during this thirteen hour struggle. (played comfortably in a short evening’s time, mind you)
Both sides were forced to assess their chances....via the rule's corps morale chart! Vandamme’s infantry could not continue any attacks, its losses too great but the British still could hold thus giving Wellington his victory
He muttered to himself, “ That was a very near run thing”
|Dusk and the end of the action|
|death of a popular officer|
In game terms, the French lost 5 or 7 infantry elements, the Allies their two elite Highland units, and the Hanoverian element. The 2nd Foot Guards were down 70%. While Exelman’s Cavalry Corps was not engaged, it could do little further damage and would not attack the town.
The only force with any military value were the 1st FG but they were enough to close the door to the French taking Brussels this day.
Hal of a game, that!
|a Guardman gives the finger(s) to the French|